The Garden Of Forking Paths

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Jorge Luis Borges

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A defence of "The Garden of Forking Paths

 

A Defence and analysis of Jorge Luis Borges’s “The Garden of Forking Paths”

By Philippe Daigneault

 

My article will explain why I think Borges’s story should be kept in the Comparative Literature curriculum by analyzing the story to further demonstrate its complexity and importance.

    Jorge Luis Borges’s “The Garden of Forking Paths” makes a lot more sense than it is credited for. The main story is rather straightforward; it is a war story about a spy that is being hunted by a special agent of the government while trying to give away precious information about the position of a very big artillery park. While the whole story about Hsi P’Íng’s ancestor, Ts’ui PÍn, and his “Garden of Forking Paths” might seem confusing, it is simply a very elaborate (and some might argue useless) diversion to the main story arc. It brings a nice side story that delves deeper into the protagonist’s and his helper’s, Dr. Stephen Albert, mind by exposing the complex analysis of Ts’ui PÍn’s legacy. I think using the book’s story to illustrate Ts’ui PÍn’s idea of an infinite labyrinth was both really thoughtful and brilliant (even more so when Albert uses an analogy about riddles to further make more explicit his own analysis of both concepts). The side story also brings a certain “feel” captured in both the recent film “Inception” and the semi-recent film “The One”. The “Inception” reference is because the story seems to be multi-layered, being a story-within-a-story (which then refers to other stories, thus creating the same kind of feel of the dream-within-a-dream-within-a-dream that Inception abuses). The “The One” reference is related to Stephen Albert’s interpretation of what Ts’ui PÍn was trying to convey with his perception of time and space through his work (the multiple paths created through time and space by decisions, which is the main ideology exploited in “The One”). While such outside references are more for entertainment value, I think they are still noteworthy in a class that favors cross-referencing and using a multi-disciplinary approach to further compare stories. Furthermore, the sheer length and complexity of this side story actually threatens to take over the main story up until the very end where the story flips around (back to the original story arc) and ends rather abruptly and unexpectedly. The ending fits quite nicely with the original war story theme, but it is rather odd that the epiphany of the main character about his ancestor’s publication, which was initially dismissed as a mere madman’s ramblings by each of his descendants, didn’t really seem to have any influence upon either his final decision or about anything else in the main story for that matter. It is altogether more bizarre considering Hsi P’Íng kills (very probably) the only person who truly understood his ancestor’s writing while indirectly sending himself to prison (and quite certainly to death for being a spy), thus condemning these ideas, and his ancestor’s fame and honor, to oblivion. It gets even weirder when you consider that he does all of this to serve a regime he does not believe in or really care for, as exposed in this passage “I didn’t do it for Germany, no. I care nothing for a barbarous country which imposed upon me the abjection of being a spy.” (Borges 136). Though he explains in the same page a certain motive for doing so: “I wanted to prove to him that a yellow man could save his armies.” (Borges 136). These conflicting thoughts, amongst others, only serve to create a more believable protagonist, with all his inherent complexity, as opposed to more linear or unidimentional characters we often encounter in other stories.

I think “The Garden of Forking Paths” is a nicely woven tale that is very interesting due to its complexity and its ability to surprise the reader with both its construction and ending.

 


Work Cited

 

 Borges, Jorge Luis. “The Garden of Forking Paths.” Fiction 100; an Anthology of Short Fiction. 12th ed. Ed. James H. Pickering. Longman, 2010. 136. Print.

Inception. Dir. Christopher Nolan. Perf. Leonardo Dicaprio, Ken Watanabe, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy, Cilian Murphy and Tom Berenger. Warner Bros. Pictures, 2010. Film.

The One. Dir. James Wong. Perf. Jet Li, Carla Gugino, Delroy Lindo, Jason Statham, James Morrison and Dylan Bruno. Columbia Tristar Films, 2001. Film.